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New England Patriots Opinion: Devin McCourty is an elite safety

I don’t usually get on my soap box with pieces like this, but I feel like Devin McCourty deserves plenty of praise for the incredible job he has done this season. The New England Patriots moved him to the safety position due to injuries, and they decided to keep him there at some point in the middle of November. Before he was moved to safety, McCourty was playing solid football at the cornerback position. But at his natural position at the back end of the defense, McCourty has turned into something more.

Each week, I like to peruse the Pro Football Focus for Nathan Jahnke’s excellent “32 Observations” piece. For those of you not familiar with Jahnke’s weekly feature, he lists one juicy, interesting statistic for each team in the NFL. This week, his tidbit on Devin McCourty and the New England Patriots really caught my attention. In fact, the astounding fact was the premise for this article.

Jahnke wrote that quarterbacks have a 78.2 QB Rating when throwing it towards McCourty when he plays at the cornerback position. That’s definitely a good number for a CB to have on their resume, but take a look at his opposing QB Rating when he plays at safety. Jahnke notes that at safety, McCourty’s opposing QB Rating pummels all the way down to 10.2 (!). No, that’s not a typo either. 10.2.

That is a ridiculous number, and it is even more incredible when you look at the fact that McCourty leads the team with five interceptions and 13 passes defended. To be able to play shutdown coverage like that and also show enough ball skills to get to five picks is truly remarkable. 78.2 is a nice number and something to be proud of, but allowing just a 10.2 QB Rating against is utterly ridiculous.

McCourty’s ability to play in run support has also allowed him to transition well to the safety position, because an underrated trait of McCourty’s at the cornerback position was his ability to play the run. He finished the year with 79 tackles, three tackles for loss, and he also chipped in a forced fumble.

Maybe I am jumping the gun here a little by calling McCourty “elite”, since it hasn’t even been a full year for him at the safety position. But I think it is safe to say that McCourty is at least a top ten safety in this league and on his way to joining that elite discussion soon. Don’t buy it? Again, he allowed just a 10.2 QB Rating, which means that he probably got his hands on more passes than he allowed whilst playing safety.

What makes McCourty so special to the New England Patriots is the fact that he can make an impact at either cornerback or safety, and it’s versatility to the maximum. The importance of having a guy who can cover guys from either position was best shown these past two weeks with injuries to Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard. McCourty came right in and did a solid job covering guys like Brian Hartline at corner after buying busy scaring quarterbacks at the safety position for most of the year.

I still can’t get that stat from Jahnke out of my head, and I’ll probably start going crazy thinking of the number “10.2”. McCourty’s impact isn’t just left to shutting down the passing attack, because he can also do some of the other things that make an elite safety. He plays the run effectively, can cover and tackle around the whole field with excellent range, and he has more than adequate ball skills.

If I ever hear somebody saying that the Patriots should sign Jairus Byrd or another coverage safety (besides Ed Reed), then I hope there is a really good justification for it. Maybe the Pats would be better off with a strong safety who can cover better to partner next to McCourty, but people need to realize that the Patriots have an elite coverage safety already in Devin McCourty.

You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.

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